Children's hospital work stalls as row over costs leaves site idle for months

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Construction work on the new €1.7bn National Children’s Hospital has stalled indefinitely amid a dispute over who should pay for the extra costs of reopening the site.

o work has been carried out on the site of the controversial project – which has been beset by delays and budget overruns – at St James’s Hospital in Dublin since the Covid-19 lockdown at the end of March.

Construction on the new hospital stopped on March 31 as the country shut down – but despite restrictions on the construction sector easing on May 18, work has yet to recommence on the site.

The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) confirmed there was a dispute with the developer Bam over who should bear the extra costs of the site being closed for over three months, and reopening it while complying with social distancing rules, which will mean fewer workers on site.

This is likely to further delay the completion of the hospital, which was scheduled to open in 2023, with the dispute also adding to the spiralling costs of one of the most expensive healthcare facilities in the world.

The delays have been described as “extremely concerning” by Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, who confirmed the hold-up through parliamentary questions.

The NPHDB argues that construction can continue while the dispute is being resolved, but this has not happened.

“There is no timeline for when it [construction] will be back up and running, discussions are ongoing,” a source with knowledge of the dispute said.

It is understood that Bam has expressed concerns over the tight nature of the construction site and its proximity to St James’s Hospital which has been dealing with the pandemic in recent months. It has outlined there are extra costs arising out of returning to work at the site while complying with social distancing and public health guidelines.

The Construction Industry Federation has previously said that, on a general basis for all construction sites, there would be extra costs and delays as a result of the Covid-19 public health measures.

Meanwhile, the NPHDB said in a statement: “Since the commencement of the easing of restrictions on May 18, the NPHDB has been engaging with BAM, the main contractor at the new children’s hospital, to ensure the earliest possible reopening of the site.

“Some matters still remain unresolved at this time, relating primarily to the cost implications of the closure and reopening of the site and who should bear them.

“This should not prevent BAM from returning to the site, however, as these matters can be resolved through the agreed dispute management process while work on site continues, and for that reason the NPHDB has been clear on its expectation that the main contractor meets its obligation by returning to the site without further delay.”

The new hospital is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2022 and handed over to the operator, Children’s Health Ireland, to open in 2023. However, the project has been beset by delays and the NPHDB said Bam had failed to make up for time lost.

The hospital board said: “The NPHDB is continuing to engage with the contractor to obtain an updated programme of works.

“There will be delays associated with the requirement to cease works on the site due to Covid-19 restrictions and following reopening in respecting social distancing. However, it is too early to fully assess the time or cost impact of the pandemic.”

Mr Lawless says he has now written to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly outlining his concerns and seeking further clarity on when work will restart on the site. Mr Donnelly confirmed the delay in response to a Dáil question submitted by Mr Lawless last month.

“This project has already undergone numerous delays and expenses – neither it nor the State can afford more controversy and delay now,” Mr Lawless said. “We require urgent clarity on what this latest wrangling consists of? What is so special about this site that sees tools still downed almost two months after every other builder is back at work? This does not bode well for the project.”

The Department of Health initially referred queries on the project delays to the NPHDB. However, in a statement to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Donnelly said: “I know the board has undertaken significant engagement with the main contractor since restrictions eased. The board has been clear on its expectation that the main contractor meets its obligations by returning to the site without further delay. It is not possible at this stage to determine what impact the pandemic may have on the timeline or costs for construction of the hospital.”

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Source: Irish News